One of the most common questions I get from folks implementing is, "How would you suggest we set that up?" I must always answer that question with one of my own: "What does your process look like?"
The beauty (and the challenge) of SPOL is that it does not require you to conform to a specific process for strategic planning, assessment, budget development, or managing your accreditation self-study.
While the system has been designed with a general process in mind, it is highly customizable and can be made to conform to a wide variety of operational scenarios and preferences.
Before jumping into system set-up on either a large or small scale, it's best to think through your process. So, what does that mean?
I think we all assume that we have a defined process, procedures, timeline, and so on that outlines our institutional effectiveness processes. We spend so much time engaged in those processes, that surely there is a master plan, right? While most colleges and universities with whom I work can talk in broad strokes about who does what, when, and why, it becomes clear that these moving pieces haven't been mapped out.
When mapping your Institutional Effectiveness processes, I suggest you give consideration to the following elements:
- Artifacts - What do you expect a planning objective or assessment plan to look like? Do you have templates for these IE artifacts? We want to recreate them in SPOL, and the templates will be our guide.
- Terminology - Do you use a specific language when describing your IE processes? Do the participants understand this language? SPOL allows you to use your own language and provides a "nomenclature engine" to assist you in making header and label changes. Before going down that road, though, you need to clarify your terminology. When you're finished with this process, add your terminology to the Glossary SPOL provides, and make this available to your users on the Resources page.
- Timeline - When should IE activities occur? Do you have due dates? Are these due dates in sync with reporting requirements, the academic calendar, and other work-flow considerations? Because the four SPOL modules — Planning, Budget, Assessment, and Accreditation — are integrated, it's important to have an idea of the order in which the various activities will be carried out.
- Expectations - What are your expectations about participant engagement in the IE process? Are deliverables expected throughout the year? What constitutes completion? In SPOL we build "approval chains" that govern the routing of documents for approval, and we have the ability to assign things like accreditation standards to those expected to play a role in the self-study. How these assignments are made depends on your expectations.
- Audience - Who will eventually receive reports of IE activities? what do these individuals want to see and how often? SPOL provides a variety of reporting options, as well as supports development of your own customized reports, but first, you need to know what you expect to deliver and to whom.
- Participants - Who is going to be involved in these processes? Can we group the participants into categories? What is expected of the various kinds of participants? I know it seems strange that I would mention participants last, because once you have SPOL installed, your first instinct is to begin entering users. You may be surprised how much the above considerations will have an impact on your decisions about users. Always begin with the process first!
If I've had the pleasure of assisting you with your implementation of SPOL, it's likely that you will recognize these questions. To me, this part of the work is a bonus to implementing SPOL. Not only will you have a scalable, robust, integrated solution for institutional effectiveness, but the process of implementing SPOL and rolling it out to your users goes a long way in clarifying your IE processes, assisting the participants in understanding how all the pieces fit together and emphasizing the importance of their ongoing participation. And how much simpler it all is with SPOL!